HMM jilted at the altar by Maersk and MSC

HMM jilted at the altar by Maersk and MSC

Not for the first time the world’s two largest containerlines have jilted a box peer at the alter. MSC and Maersk announced Sunday that Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM) has been denied entry to 2M, their vessel sharing agreement, delivering a critical blow to the South Korean liner.

Despite the fact MSC and Maersk had signed a surprise MoU with HMM four months ago to join 2M, the deal had long looked unlikely with senior officials from the world’s top two boxlines intimating to Splash that HMM’s membership to 2M was not fixed. HMM, which has gone through a significant restructuring earlier this year, had been denied entrance to another container grouping, THE Alliance, before it surprised the majority of container shipping watchers by signing an MoU with the 2M members.

Rather than becoming a fully fledged member of 2M, what has been hammered out between HMM officials and senior management at Maersk and MSC in the past week is, according to a release issued Sunday, a strategic cooperation involving a combination of slot exchanges and slot purchases between the three parties, as well as Maersk and MSC taking over a number of charters and operations of vessels currently chartered to HMM.

The agreement is scheduled to begin in April 2017 subject to regulatory approval. The initial term of the cooperation is three years with option to extend and covers key East-West trades.

HMM now stands outside of any container alliance come next April leaving it extremely exposed.

It is not the first time MSC and Maersk have jettisoned a potential alliance partner. Bowing to regulatory pressure a couple of years ago Maersk and MSC ditched French partner CMA CGM in what would have been a very dominant container alliance.

For HMM the future is now unclear. With a market share of just 2.2% it needed to yoke itself to 2M as a fully fledged partner. Analysts now suggest that like its bust compatriot Hanjin Shipping, its best way to survive is to become a niche intra-Asia player.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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